We reproduce here the text of a talk that ecosocialist activist Harry Holmes gave at the Warwick University encampment on Nakba Day.

Gaza after Israeli rocket attack 2006 – image used under Creative Commons

While I’m aware that I’m meant to be speaking about ecological politics and revolutionary environmental strategy, I’m also speaking on Nakba Day. This is the day used to commemorate the ethnic cleansing and displacement of the Palestinian people from their land in 1948 by the Zionist entity. In fact, many of you may have seen that in November 2023, Avi Dichter, the Israeli Agriculture Minister, described the current genocide in Gaza as ‘the Gaza Nakba’.

It is from our resistance to the ongoing Nakba, the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, and this mass movement of a generation which we must begin discussing ecological politics from.

As Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said, ‘the Nakba is not a memory; it is a continuous uprooting.’

I start from resistance to this uprooting, resistance to the genocide, not in a performative sense, as a way to win you round to my view on ecological politics because of your views on Palestine. But because, as someone interested in disasters, who believes that our politics around ecology must understand disasters quickly, there are practical lessons from the Palestinian liberation movement. If we are to talk about disaster communism and what a revolutionary ecological politics looks like in times of disaster – we should start with Palestine.

Andreas Malm, comrades in the Palestinian Youth Movement, and comrades in the revolutionary ecological campaign Energy Embargo for Palestine have repeatedly given a practical example of this interlinkage.

In September 2023, due to damage from Storm Daniel, the dam in Derna, Libya collapsed and caused a mega-flood. It is estimated to have killed between 10-20k people. Half the city was destroyed, and it is the second deadliest dam collapse in history. After they had to struggle with the Israeli occupation to exit the West Bank, one of the important aid organisations on the ground in Derna was PICA – the Palestinian aid group.

When you need to provide medical aid with intermittent electricity. When you need to do so with minimal resources. When you need to provide shelter as buildings have been flattened. When you are dealing with rapidly spreading diseases from water. When you are dealing with a lack of access to clean water. When you are dealing with all these problems, who do you look to? The Palestinian people. A people who have been forced to be steadfast in the face of Zionism, imperialism and capitalism.

Let us zoom out. When we talk about the scale of ecological breakdown, two approaches often dominate in discussions. Firstly, a catastrophic ‘the sky is falling’ vision of total collapse, complete human extinctions, and demands to ‘act now’ to prevent the end of the world. The other is the focus on ‘this thing’ as the ‘solution’ to ecological breakdown – it might be a policy like the Green New Deal, it might be the right-wing technological vision of ‘more solar panels’, or it might be fetishising one tactic, like arguing only just transition organising is the solution.

The first approach retains the total vision of ecological breakdown, and can initially mobilise people. But it often has diminishing returns, as people suddenly realise we will be in this struggle for decades, burn out, and so on. It also has the effect of shutting down the need to discuss various strategies and tactics, particularly the necessity of deeper forms of organising for the long term.

The second approach is useful in supplying the environmental movement with information and demands, but at its most technocratic it often obscures the systemic nature of ecological breakdown – namely, the fact it is due to capitalism. Often, the more right wing environmental solution proposals entrench false solutions. Similarly, focus on ‘one solution’ often ends up tacking rightward due to lack of a clear mass movement behind the demand.

Of course, these are simplifications. But when we think about the next few decades, and we should talk in decades, we need to break out of these limiting approaches. The truth is that the coming decades will see escalating increases in disasters like heatwaves, zoonotic diseases, and droughts. We need to recognise a lesson learned during both the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing genocide, which is capitalism’s capacity to internalise and weather mass systemic violence. Which is to say, disasters don’t simply lead to ‘total social collapse’ nor do they naturally produce revolutionary movements in response. If we are going to end it – we’ll have to, like Lenin says, ‘bring consciousness from without’ – politicise escalating disasters and leverage them against capitalism. There must be intervention agitationally and organisationally from revolutionaries. This informs the ideas of disaster communism, which has been mobilised by Andreas Malm, the Out of the Woods Collective, and the Salvage Collective.

What might this political practice of disaster communism mean then? We can consider it in terms of defensive work and offensive work. Again, this is a simplification, hopefully to inspire discussion.

Defensive work is particularly here meant to describe the idea of building militant institutions for workers and the oppressed, before disasters, so there is effective power to organise at these moments. This is the kind of work that the Out of the Woods collective describe in their social reproduction theory inspired Marxist environmentalism. This might look like building strong tenant movements where disasters are occurring around housing. It also includes militant workplace activity, both growing workplace activity and developing a rank and file network amongst unions. Which industries are key? Healthcare stands out as an ecological job and much needed. Similarly, within education. Both these workplaces are also key to building wider links in the community. Then we need to think through key sites in the supply chain, particularly as foodstuffs get more sparse. Relatedly, we need to identify the kinds of service work, a major sector of employment in Britain, which are quickly going to become unsafe because of temperatures in summer. Finally, there are the infrastructural, energy, and construction workplaces that are crucial to both what materials we use and the maintenance of living conditions.

We also need to be building organisation around the site of consumption. Particularly interesting here is the return of so-called ‘auto-reduction’ campaigns. These are attempts through collective action to reduce the price of commodities. In ecological terms, that is struggles where consumers directly attempt to reduce the costs of essentials like food and water. This might look like campaigns around water prices that learn from the experiences of Don’t Pay and the Irish water charges struggle. Similarly, groups like This is Rigged have begun a series of ‘robin hood’ actions around food to link climate and rising food prices.  Workers and community members around these necessities need to be organised. Finally, there is the ever present struggles to build localised resistance to fossil extraction and funding, wherever we see it emerge.

That gives some flavour of what I might mean by ‘defensive struggles’ but there is then the ‘offensive struggles’ I teased. What I mean by this is the struggle against the British state, which is the key source and defender of ecological breakdown globally, militarism (such as in the ongoing genocide), and the class rule of British capitalists.

It is this ‘offensive work’ which the British environmental movement is weaker on. We are often abstentionist on the question of the state and focus on localised work. We don’t talk about or even attempt to update the Leninist (actually entirely Marxist) idea of a mass struggle against a particular kind of state, to seize some of its elements whilst smashing and democratising it at the same time. What might this look like?

Immediately, it includes building resistance and fighting for the repeal of recent policing and border powers – as well as the long-term defunding and abolition of these institutions. Practically, every weakening of the repressive arm of the state creates more space for workers, the oppressed and socialists to organise, and means we are less likely to face repression in our ecological work.

But we also need to build fights about the anti-democratic nature of the British state more widely, not just at the times when it arrests our comrades. Demands like a shorter working week, universal proportional suffrage, a positive right to strike and so on are important in a programmatic sense. Of course, capitalism, as with any ‘right’ will attempt desperately to subvert them. But these kinds of mass democratic demand were once understood as part of Marxist class struggle because they qualitatively shifted the terrain which workers and the oppressed organised on. They, in forcing concessions from the ruling classes, give space for greater organisation, greater success in agitation, and ultimately carve out more space to struggle around ecological breakdown.

Finally, we need to sharpen our organisational tools. We need to cohere ecosocialist forces into something meaningful nationally, that can contest at the level of the state. This is not simply a cry to join my group (though happy to talk about that with anyone), nor is it a call to start some merely electoral project like the Greens. It is about breaking environmental organising out of its localised, self-selecting, affinity group model of organising – which cannot be effective at the scale of the state. This is to make the argument for mass member democratic class organisations, which can provide the functions which Marxists often described using the shorthand of ‘the party’. That is institutions capable of intervening in ecological politics in a mass manner – insofar as they are capable in moments of crisis to allow the class to undermine the British state.

Now, all the sorts of things I’ve described as things disaster communists could get up to take time, under pretty bad conditions. That certainly is a problem. But as Marx said, we operate under ‘conditions not of our making’.

Amilcar Cabral, the revolutionary leader of the people of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde against Portuguese colonialism, when asked how the campaign sustained itself, said the phrase ‘the people are our mountains’. Which is to say we must be guided by a belief that no matter how bad our conditions, we must learn from the capacity of oppressed and exploited people to struggle and use this to build strength for the coming storms.

Case in point. This morning, I awoke, painfully in a tent in a concrete encampment, feeling miserable not only at these conditions, but also the general state of the world. But at the same time, another encampment started at York University. Activists with Palestine Action had smashed the roof of one arms factory and blockaded another. In Glasgow, despite police violence, comrades had blocked another arms producer. My head is full of disasters, those we know are happening in Palestine, and those we know are coming. But perversely, I look at this mass movement, the boundless creativity and commitment from people far and wide, and I am full of hope that we can rise to the tasks of the coming decades.

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